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Lifeflight air ambulance doctors urge province to ‘put on ice’ plans to privatize service

Lifeflight Manitoba is  asking the government to reconsider the proposal to air emergency services.
Lifeflight Manitoba is asking the government to reconsider the proposal to air emergency services. Global News

Sixteen air ambulance doctors with Lifeflight Manitoba say they aren’t eager to budge should the government privatize the province’s emergency air services.

Lifeflight provides quick inter-facility air ambulance transportation for seriously ill or injured Manitobans within 200 kilometres of Winnipeg.

READ MORE: Safety, savings required says province on private bids for air services contracts

In a letter obtained by Global News, the Lifeflight doctors explain to Health Minister Cameron Friesen their concerns over the proposed privatization.

The letter focuses on safety and transportation concerns.

In bold print the letter states, “We the medical staff of Lifeflight Manitoba Air Ambulance wish to make it clear that we are not prepared to work in an environment that provides substandard patient care and increases risk to patients and providers.”

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For the 33 years the program has been running, the doctors wrote, there had been no safety incidents.

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“When our service provider switches from a publicly owned entity to private industry, there will invariably be pressure on crews to take risks for the sake of maintaining profit margins,” the letter states.

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The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) says the proposed change is risky.

“These doctors and their years of medical experience should be taken seriously, and the rush to privatize this vital public service should be put on ice.” MGEU spokesperson Jodee Mason said.

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The MGEU said the government should instead put patients first, Mason added.

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The letter ends by asking Friesen to recognize the right to equal access to health care across the province and to put patients first.

In July, the Manitoba government said it won’t proceed with the plans unless the same level of service and safety is provided, while also providing better value.

In a statement to Global News, Health Minister Cameron Friesen wrote, “We are working to maintain a vital health service that achieves good value for Manitobans.”

Friesen continued by saying his office will be scheduling a meeting with the doctors this week.

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“Our government is interested in hearing from these physicians and look forward to reassuring them that we would never take a step that compromises the level of service Lifeflight offers in any way.”

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MLA for Keewatinook, Judy Klassen said emergency air services is already a waiting game, as doctors must determine who is most “at-risk” if dealing with two separate patients.

“We rely on these services to get our people to safety.”

Klassen said she’s already seen people wait up to twelve hours for air services, and worries that privatizing it will only make it worse.

“These aren’t just regular appointments, these are ambulances.”